A decade of experience in project & product management in various organisations taught me a true value of the ability to maintain focus. Sometimes the hard way.
Now in the times of work from home, cutting off distractions might be even more changeling than one would think. With tons of tasks at hand, tough questions from developers and stakeholders, messages on slack spamming every minute, urgent emails, kids yelling in the background and that annoying fly buzzing in the room , a simple task of replying to an email can become a bloodied struggle with oneself. Not to even mention of how one could attempt to write software specifications.
How do I get through such days and make the most out of them?
Firstly I kill that f**ing fly.
And then I apply a few simple rules, that not only help to keep my sanity in check, but also allow me to get the job done.
1. Prioritise & execute
Multitasking is a myth.
Don’t believe me?
Try a simple exercise (credit to my Dad) – write on a blackboard in a row numbers from 1 to 10 in arabic numerals, and then in roman signs. Then do the same but with instead of going with one row till the end, switch between arabic and roman after each sign. See which method will take you more time…
Unlike what some say about the art of management – switching through various tasks makes you actually LESS efficient.
So what you need to learn first is to be able to pick up ONE thing at a time. Ideally the most important one. And get it though till the end (or at least a measurable milestone). Then another. And so on.
The method of Prioritising and Executing has been described at length in an amazing book “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. If you ever think of becoming a manager or about picking up on any leadership role – read it please.
2. Put the music on. Keep it on the loop.
I get it – apparently there are people who need silence to maintain focus. I guess those people have a luxury of having silence in their surroundings in first place. I am not one of them – so good headphones and good music are key to my performance.
There is a music for sports, music to sing to, songs for dancing with your wife, there is also a music you need to focus ON. Such music is not recommended at all.
You need the RIGHT kind of music, if you want to stay productive. The music that is not intrusive, that is repetitive so it gets you in the rhythm , that enhances clarity of mind. “De gustibus non-disptandum est” so I imagine such tunes will be different for different people. For myself, one of the tracks that kept me through a lot of usability diagrams and helped through producing some complex documentation was this one.
So find your tune. This will be a soundtrack for you life achievements. So better make it good.
3. Stay fit to keep the mind sharp.
Balance between your body and mind is paramount, not just to stay productive, but in the long run to simply stay alive. Lack of physical activity, wrong diet & not managing stress are slow killers.
So make sure you do exercise on a daily basis, ideally somewhere on fresh air. You will sweat some toxins out of your body and get bit more oxygen to that precious brain of yours.
Oh and if you happen to do martial arts, here is a bonus tip: throwing few kicks at boxing bag is an awesome way of acting out on those passive-aggressive e-mails you are getting from one of THESE clients…
4. Get breaks
Speaking of balance. Remember to rest.
Ideally every 45-60 minutes, take a deep breath, switch your mind to something else. Change place. Walk a bit, stretch arms.
Let your mind take a break. It will gratify you by staying sharp.
Do not look at any screen. Do not check your phone. Especially not that Facebook feed…
5. Treat social media as poison for your mind (which they are).
Social media are designed to keep you in a dopamine-seeking cue-reward loop. All those developers behind every major social media platform are using their extraordinary skills and brainpower for ultimately, one single purpose.
To make a f***ing lab rat out of you.
With the same data-based cue-reward mechanisms, which are used to train animals those applications are to tame you and teach you to scroll/hit likes/post videos so that you can get that that neurological candy in a form of like/comment/new content.
And then come back for more. Know, that those apps are good at it.
So just do not give them any chance.
Before hitting that “play video” button, before checking that notification you got – remember you are about to sip a bit of poison. And before you know it, you will drink from the whole bottle bottom up. This will cloud your mind, drain your energy and get you away from your goal.
Do not let them distract you. Stay focused.
Get the job done. Chase your dreams.
Don’t be a f***ing lab rat.